Branch: National Guard
Duty Station: Ohio
Number of Deployments: 1
Number of PCS's: 0
Share your military spouse story:
My name is Traci and I have been married to Darren for 7 years. Darren was in the Army National Guard for 14 years and switched branches to the Air National Guard in April of 2020. Out of those 14 years in the Army, Darren worked as a full time technician at the flight facility for 12 years. Together we are raising my two wonderful children, Faith is 14 and Alex is 12. Darren settled into the role of Step Dad wonderfully and the kids absolutely adore him. Along with being a wife and a mother, I work full time for Defense Finance and Accounting Service at the Defense Supply Center in Columbus Ohio. Lucky me, Darren works in the building right next to mine at Defense Logistics Agency. Before the pandemic began we would ride to work together and often meet for lunch. It was wonderful to be able to spend more time together, it was almost like a date! I started volunteering with the FRG within weeks of us dating. To me, there is absolutely nothing better than bringing joy to a service member. Along with the FRG we would usually host a hot breakfast or lunch and then offer snacks throughout the day or weekend. Offering a hot coffee on a freezing day on the flight line or a hot meal after coming out of the field. Soon we realized that you make a lot of progress with quiet service members when you offer them food or drinks. A few years into being a volunteer I was hired as a full time contractor in Family Programs for the ONG and settled in with the 16th Engineer Brigade, also HQ'ed out of DSCC. Once in that position I was offered the opportunity to take the Mental Health First Aid course and a light went on! I knew that mental health was a hot button for not only me personally but for the members of the Ohio National Guard. Being a Military spouse/volunteer/contractor and parent is sometimes a lot to juggle but on my most frustrating days I consider myself extremely honored to have all of these opportunities on my very full plate.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Since meeting Darren I have been a volunteer with the family readiness program and a contractor position in family programs for 3 years. While being a contractor I was able to train as a Mental Health First Aider, then a Mental Health First Aid Trainer for Public Service and Military, then Adult and finally as a Youth trainer. All of this training provided the opportunity to really get in the trenches with our service members and unpack some really difficult topics.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Unfortunately, The Ohio National Guard has one of the highest suicide rates. Every single suicide was heart breaking but at the same time lit a fire under me. During the initial MHFA training I was partnered with another OHARNG service member and we instantly clicked, and from that moment on we were partners in sharing as much MHFA knowledge as we could. We had to find a way to use the mental health first aid training and help our service members as much as possible. Asking leadership for 8 plus hours of training time in an already full schedule is no easy task and we were denied more often than not unfortunately, but we were able to get in front of a few service members at a time. And then a few turned into squads and then the squads turned into platoons and platoons turned into units. And we were finally starting to make progress.
Describe how you support your community:
I'm on a never ending mission to find new resources to help our services members. Anywhere from hot meals during a last second activation or help with paying an electric bill. There is a huge community out there that is just waiting to be asked to help the military. With a quick facebook message during the civil unrest activation we were able to provide meals to several hundred of service members for almost a week until the catering contract was arranged. Granted, MRE's and a water buffalo was provided but that is a sure way to destroy morale in a hot second. You gain a lot of trust when you show up in the dead of summer with a truck bed full of iced bottle waters, sodas and energy drinks. Throughout several years of volunteering and working as a contractor I have made many friends and they are always up for the adventure of gathering supplies and providing anything that our service members may need.
What do you advocate for? Why?
I'm on a never ending mission to see the suicide rates decline. I would love to raise more awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. I want to advocate for those that at risk and offer them resources to appropriate and quality care. I want to help educate not only our enlisted service members but work with leadership in how to respond appropriately when there is a crisis. The national guard is so very different from active duty since most service members are only with each other on drill weekend, at most 2-3 days a month. In those 2-3 days a month it is difficult to connect between field training and various exercises required to be in a ready status at all times. The support systems that are available on an active duty post do not exist on Saturdays or Sundays and can really leave the service member and family feeling like they are on an island. We need to not only educate the service member but also share those resources with the families.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I always try to make myself available to friends, family and community whenever possible. In addition to being an FRG volunteer, I serve on the funeral committee at church and also sew baby blankets for several NICU outreach organizations with my local quilt guild. Being a military spouse is a huge honor and I feel that reaching out to our community and giving back whenever possible will almost always be returned ten-fold.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
If I was honored with the AFI/MSOY title, my goal would be to improve on the Mental Health assistance opportunities for our service members and families. We need to constantly improve the platform of assistance and continue to change with the times. We need to break down the stigma with behavior health and not have these challenges held against them. We all need support from time to time, we need to be there on the good days and bad.
Traci is an incredible military spouse who is passionate about supporting service members, veterans, and their families. Her love for the military community is evident. Traci has a heart for others, loves to volunteer, and is a support and encourager. She currently volunteers for the 122nd, and also was a Family Readiness Support Assistant, where she supported Ohio National Guard servicemembers and their families. She has a direct impact on the Ohio National Guard community, and makes a positive difference. Her husband has been serving for 17 years, and they have been married for 9 years. She is an inspiration with her service to others and her contagious positivity. Traci's years of dedication and passion is inspiring, which is why she is being nominated for Military Spouse of the Year!
- by Elizabeth Fought